It’s easy for the queer community to see the events in Orlando as a hate crime, but does the rest of America?
By now we are all aware, 49 people have been shot to death at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the largest mass shooting in American history. As more details around the shooting rolled in, we learned that this was an act of “homegrown terrorism” as President Obama described it. The gunman is believed to have been an ISIS sympathizer, though he was not acting under the direction of any terrorist organization. There is, however, one detail that has gone unnoticed or brushed aside by some: this was a hate crime.
The morning after the shooting, we sang on Good Morning America with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus in remembrance of the victims. I went to work after the taping and gave my gay co-worker a hug with tears unabashedly streaming down my face. As the others began to notice, they smiled and said, excitedly, “we saw you on Good Morning America!” One co-worker was relieved by what she thought were tears of joy after our performance. It was a heartbreaking moment as I turned back to my gay co-worker and shared a look of unmistakable sadness.
The video of our appearance on TV was viewed by over a million people in a matter of hours. Comments started to appear, thanking us and grieving with us. I was concerned, though, by the multitude of posts that condemned this tragedy as an act of terrorism alone. It was, surely, an act of terrorism, but its target was not the American people at large. It was queer people and, more specifically, queer people of color.
Some media sources have done well in framing this event as a hate crime. Good Morning America dedicated their entire Monday morning show to the tragedy, featuring guests from the LGBTQ and Muslim communities who discussed its effects on the gay population. Others, though, have failed to do so. Many large news organizations, talk show hosts, and publications have either glazed over or completely disregarded the greater purpose of this attack.
Bars and clubs are being guarded by police officers with automatic weapons. Our rehearsal for the Gay Men’s Chorus was held behind locked doors, and plans are being made to have heightened security at our Pride concert. I won’t say we are afraid, though understandably some of us are. We are, however, starkly aware that we are the targets of great hatred by some fanatical bigots.
We are not the first community, nor will we be the last to feel the impassioned hatred of others. This is not the first, nor will it be the last hate crime committed against a minority group. This tragedy has simply been mislabeled. We are under attack as queer people. To grieve is to grieve with us. To fight is to fight with us.
The grief we feel around this event is universal. 49 innocent people have been murdered. As Americans, we mourn after yet another mass shooting. But to stand in the idea that this was simply an act of terrorism, and to call for us solely as Americans to come together in solidarity is a disservice and a dishonor to the memories of the victims of this attack. The people who died were queer people and their allies. If we are going to stand together, let’s do so as queer people and allies. If you are not an ally, step aside. You have no part in this fight.
We cannot fight hatred alone, surely. But let’s be very clear on what hatred we are fighting through this tragedy. As queer people, we invite you to grieve with us. Grieve and spread our message of love, acceptance, and strength. If you can’t do that, you can get out of our way.